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     " ...Small annoyances are dwarfed by the overall experience... "

      Title: DiRT by Codemasters

      Format: Rally Racing on the Xbox 360

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: The latest heir to the Collin McRae franchise, DiRT tries to bring all the glory that is mixed-road rally racing to the masses. Sporting improved graphics, new damage modeling, tons of cars, and a monkey-load of tracks, it wants to make you forget that there has been about a dozen other racing games to hit in the last few months. But can it? Read on, my Monkeys, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: No bones about it, DiRT is gorgeous. The models are crisp, the animations are smooth, and the environments are incredibly detailed and often near-picturesque--and the most reactive we've seen in a racer to date. Brush up against a wooden fence and it splinters, smash into it and it shatters. Drift into the trees and their branches splay. It's makes the game enthralling to watch, even if you're not the one behind the wheel.
          That said, there are a few things that keep it from being stunning, or the best looking racer on the 360. The cars, while really well modeled, lack the polish and detail we've seen in games like Forza 2. Likewise, much of the terrain, in the form of dirt roads and grass, is missing the quality of texture I'd like to see in a game of this caliber. Forget streaks in the dirt and divots in the grass (even in the short term), most of the time all you'll get out of the ground is a generic, last-generation texture matting.
           Still, it is easily in the top five prettiest racers on the 'Box, and is a heckova lot nicer than most of what we've seen...and really nice when the trees are whipping by and the cars are bumping and grinding their way down the track. 4.5 out of 5

      Playability: Typically racers fall into one of two camps: arcade or simulation. Generally speaking, you are either left with little more than a glorified high-speed go-kart that only looks like a car, or a hyper realistic sim that feels like almost as much work as going out to the garage and tweaking your real-life ride. DiRT, then, tries to split the middle by offering an experience that is mostly realistic, but still slap-stick enough to let it be pick-up-and-play for the masses. All in all, that balance is an absolute hit.
          Though incorporating a number of sim elements, including extensive car tweaking and a top-notch, highly detailed reactive damage system, at its heart DiRT really is a "run your way around the track" racer. At any but the highest difficulty settings, you can sacrifice the occasional opponent bump or fender bender without busting up your car too much, and will have a much easier time working your way around the hairpin turns and drifting corners than you would in a game more dedicated to realism. Which is not a bad thing, believe me.
          Of course, it's not entirely a good thing, either. It does bring with it two glaring flaws, which won't impact your overall enjoyment of the game, but will irk you at a few inopportune moments. The first, and most noticeable, is the awkward physics that the cars seem to employ. Rather than cornering on their wheels, as a real car does, the liveries in DiRT seem to work from a central, center-of-the-car axis that makes hard turns and drifting feel oddly off. The second, which is more of a gamesmanship issue, is the AI's absolute propensity to bump and smash in group races. Not the gentlemanly sport that real rally racing tends to be, in DiRT you can expect to be bumped, pushed, smashed, and slammed as you are forced into giant packs of twisting wreckage at almost every close turn.
          Still, those small annoyances are dwarfed by the overall experience of the myriad of game modes and car choices DiRT offers. With a career mode sporting a solid hundred races, almost fifty unlockable cars in a half-dozen different categories, and both single and multiple-race rally options, there is a ton in DiRT to keep you going...and a really solid scalable difficulty system that lets you keep the opposition right up with you the entire time. 4.5 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: We'll do this in order and start with the bad, first: the multiplayer. Though the box hypes races with up to 100 players, the reality is almost a cause for false advertising. Multiplayer, it turns out, both via system link and Live, is actually nothing more than a giant series of simultaneous solo runs. That means that, while yes, you will be racing with a ton of other people, you will never see (or most of the time hear) them on the track. Instead they will make the same solo-run you are making at the same time, and afterwards you can compare your results. Yippy. In a way, it's made even more insulting by the inclusion of a really solid ranking and race comparison that occurs after each single player race...which means that the real-time multiplayer comparison of you and your Live buddies is absolutely pointless.
           But, on the plus side, even though the multiplayer sucks there is more than enough single player to keep you going. With the wide array of tracks, race modes, and unlockable cars there is easily a few dozen hours of gameplay for those ambitious enough to tackle it. 3 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       All in all, DiRT is an incredibly solid racer and one of my all-time favorite titles on the 360. Though suffering from a few niggling flaws, the awesome balance of playability and realism make it as much fun to drive as any game currently on the market.

      The Good: Pretty, fun, and vast.

      The Bad: The physics are iffy and the multiplayer is non-existant.

      The Overall Ugly: The race game you want.

      What it's Worth: Market.

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